Former President Trump says FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach
PALM BEACH — FBI agents reportedly conducted a search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club on Monday afternoon.
In a statement, Trump blasted the search of his home, which he said was "under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents." Trump did not shed light on why the agents were there, or what they were searching for, other than to exclaim that they "broke" into his safe.
However, the former president is under investigation on a number of different fronts.
Two of the most prominent investigations are related to Trump's perceived role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in what a U.S. House panel has called an attempted coup. The other is an investigation by Georgia authorities into allegations that Trump pressed election officials in that state to "find" him enough votes to fraudulently win Georgia's electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election.
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In addition, New York authorities are probing into Trump's financial dealings. And federal officials are also believed to be reviewing Trump's possession of government records at Mar-a-Lago after he left the presidency, as well as claims by officials that Trump destroyed documents during his presidency.
By law, presidential records and papers are public property and must be protected, and then handed over to the U.S. National Archives when a presidency ends.
Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized the FBI's raid of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach on Monday, calling it something that happens in a "Banana Republic."
"The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves," DeSantis tweeted, referring to President Joe Biden's son. The Justice Department is investigating Hunter Biden's business activities, according to several media outlets.
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That position was rebuked by U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in this month's primary.
“In the United States of America, no one is above the law, not even a former President," Crist said in a statement. "Governor DeSantis’s knee-jerk partisan response to this law enforcement action proves yet again he is more interested in playing politics than seeking justice or the rule of law."
The idea that the FBI or any other law enforcement agency is raiding a former president’s house is stunning, period – and unprecedented. Even for Trump,” said Matthew Dallek, a longtime presidential historian who has written extensively on modern-era politics and presidents.
As unprecedented as a raid on a former president home is, Bradley P. Moss, a national security lawyer, said Trump’s handling of documents justified the search, if that was the reason for it.
“No one, not even Donald Trump, is above the law,” he says. “Properly marked classified documents were taken to Mr. Trump’s personal residence after he left office and were stored in an unsecured manner for months. That is a clear violation of the law.”
Dallek added: “If the FBI or any other federal agencies are raiding the former president’s home, I would presume it is for a very active criminal investigation, or investigations.
“The FBI raids homes typically for hardened criminals and mobsters. It is an iconic image dating back decades," he told USA Today. "If a former President’s home is surrounded by FBI or other federal agents, that is certainly an even more iconic image.”
Trump, who was not at Mar-a-Lago during the raid, did reference in his statement that he had been "cooperating" with unnamed federal agencies.
"After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate," he stated.
"These are dark times for our Nation," he added.
On Monday evening, a Palm Beach Post reporter who went by the exclusive Palm Beach club did not see signs of the search. But some of the former president's fans, some waving flags, were standing curbside in a show of support.
The Mar-a-Lago club is typically closed to members during summers – a member referred to the seasonal closure as "dead August." Trump mostly visits the club, which he purchased in the 1980s, between late fall and early spring.
A Palm Beacher who frequents Mar-a-Lago expressed concern that the search may have damaged the property, and wanted to know if the search took place in the private residence area used by Trump and his family, or the club area that is accessed by members.
"This is horrible," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office had neither any involvement in Monday's search nor advance knowledge of it, said Marc Freeman, its spokesman.
Federal prosecutors questioning witnesses as part of the Jan. 6 probe
Last month, it was disclosed that federal prosecutors had been questioning witnesses about the conduct of the former president as part of an inquiry into an effort to overturn the 2020 election, a person familiar with the matter said.
The action is part of a more aggressive review of attempts by the former president's allies to intervene in the election by substituting fake electors to tilt the vote in key states and to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of President Joe Biden's election.
While the source said prosecutors have recently questioned witnesses about Trump, the person declined to describe the queries in detail.
The examination of Trump's actions in the run-up to the Jan. 6 insurrection was first disclosed by The Washington Post, which cited four people familiar with the matter.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a NBC News last month, did not exempt Trump from federal scrutiny in the Jan. 6 investigation, saying that federal prosecutors will pursue "anyone who was criminally responsible."
"We pursue justice without fear or favor," Garland told NBC when pressed on whether that could include Trump. "I'll say again that we will hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the... legitimate, lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next."
Last month, federal investigators searched the home of former assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark, who drafted a letter to officials in six states to overturn their election results. And authorities seized the cellphone of John Eastman, one of Trump's personal lawyers who developed a scheme to have then-Vice President Pence singlehandedly reject electors from states Joe Biden won. Pence refused to carry out such a plan.
Pence's former chief of staff, Marc Short, has acknowledged that he had testified before a federal grand jury.
Reporting by Zac Anderson of the USA Today Florida Network was used in this story.
This is a developing story. Check back for details.
Antonio Fins is a politics and business editor at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stephany Matat is a politics at the Post. You can reach ere at SMatat@pbpost.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.